If Indianapolis brings to mind costly tickets for the Indy 500 or a Colts game at Lucas Oil Stadium, you're not alone. But this city also anchors Indiana, a state known for its affordable cost of living.
With dozens of public green spaces, an award-winning children's museum offering free and discounted days and inexpensive restaurants serving up Midwest mainstays, Indy is a genuinely budget-friendly destination.
Here’s how you to have a good time in Indy without spending a dime.
Have a family day out at White River State Park
Any no-spend day in Indianapolis should begin at White River State Park. This urban park is the perfect central place to meet friends for a picnic, read a book in the sunshine, walk the paved paths or simply take in views of the city from a park bench. If you decide you want to spend some money, this downtown green space houses the TCU Amphitheater, Victory Field and the Indianapolis Zoo.
Soak in the city sights along the Canal Walk
You could spend the entire day exploring downtown Indy's 3-mile Canal Walk, especially in the summer. This popular walking and jogging path connects the Indianapolis Zoo, the NCAA Hall of Champions, White River State Park and more.
Stop for photos at one of the art installations including Convergence, a 2005 mixed media sculpture, and The Herron Arch 1, a vibrant aluminum piece that’s 20 feet tall. Visitors regularly rent paddle boats and pay for gondola rides, but you can people-watch on the Canal Walk for free.
Catch the light show at Monument Circle
Smack-dab in the center of downtown Indy is Monument Circle, a brick-paved loop around the towering Soldiers and Sailors Monument. The steps leading up to the monument have become a popular meeting spot, photography backdrop and lunchtime hangout among city residents.
Almost every night of the year, Monument Circle comes alive with a patriotic light show and a soundtrack by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Light show times vary seasonally, so check the website before your visit.
Explore or relax at Indianapolis Art Center
The Indianapolis Art Center encompasses art galleries, a library and the open-air ARTSPARK. The entire campus is free and open seven days a week. If you’re short on time, head straight to ARTSPARK, the 9.5-acre garden brimming with whimsical interactive sculptures. The tranquil space is perfect for exploring, picnicking or spending an afternoon in quiet reflection. Don’t miss the Twisted House sculpture, which many visitors say feels like stepping into a fairy tale.
Play free games at Tappers Arcade Bar
Feeling nostalgic? Tappers Arcade Bar down the road from Indy's famed Milktooth restaurant is packed with arcade games like Donkey Kong, Ms Pacman and Frogger. It's a 21 and up haunt that’s great for an affordable date night, and most games are free to play with the cost of a drink – alcoholic or not.
Get lost in the stacks at the Indiana State Library
The Indiana State Library building was constructed in 1934, but the library collection and genealogical records date back to the 19th century. This landmark makes for immersive infotainment in winter or on rainy days. Visitors can freely access the genealogy resources, Braille books collection and audiobooks and magazines designed for accessible reading. The library is open during standard business hours and is typically closed on weekends.
Improve your trivia knowledge at the Rolls-Royce Exhibition
Got an aviation geek in your travel group? Head to the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust Allison Branch. The educational exhibition includes a massive collection of Rolls-Royce aircraft engines. Interactive stations invite young tykes to touch the many mechanical devices, while detailed explanations and informative staff members ensure that adults walk away with new aviation trivia. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.
Find your groove at a free summer concert
Every year, Indy Parks releases a schedule of free summer concerts across the city. These weekly community events often feature the Philharmonic Orchestra of Indianapolis dazzling the crowd with a blend of patriotic tunes, jazz and even movie soundtracks. Check the website to find out where to catch the concert. Depending on the week, you might also find a free outdoor movie night or local band lineup on the agenda.
Wander through history at the historic Indianapolis City Market
The Indianapolis City Market is more than just a vibrant collection of local artists and food vendors. This market house, which opened in 1886, is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Sure, grabbing a bite at Maxine's Chicken & Waffles, a brew at Tomlinson's Tap Room or a fresh bouquet at Root and Relic Flower Shop isn't free, but visitors are welcome to walk through the maze of vendors or sit and watch the world go by in this slice of Indiana history.
Bike or walk the Indianapolis Cultural Trail
Walkers, joggers and cyclists love the Indianapolis Cultural Trail because it easily connects the city's six cultural districts, which include riverside Broad Ripple Village, arts and culture-focused Mass Ave, trendy Fountain Square and the historic Wholesale District. Indy's cultural trail is a safe, fun way to explore different parts of the city in an afternoon or an entire day. Cultural Trail tours are available for a fee. For folks who prefer riding to walking, Pacers Bikeshare offers 15-cents-per-minute bike rentals.
Interact with art at Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park
The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park sits on the 53-acre campus of Newfields, home of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The park is the only section without an admission fee, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth your while.
Like ARTSPARK, Fairbanks Park is full of giant art installations to explore. Don't miss Park of the Laments, a dark tunnel leading to a quiet garden full of 3000 plants, or Funky Bones, the sculpture collection of fiberglass bones that appeared in John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.
Enjoy Indy's best view atop the Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Sure, you could spend a couple of bucks to take the elevator, but why not climb the Soldiers and Sailors Monument's 331 stairs for free? This iconic limestone memorial to Hoosier veterans has a free public observation deck with a 360-degree bird's-eye view of the city.
Admire military artifacts at the Indiana War Museum
Inside the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza is the Indiana War Museum, a free military museum with exhibits tracing the state's military history from the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe to today. Military buffs will enjoy viewing the museum's more than 400 military flags.
Don't miss the Shrine Room on the museum's top level. This 110ft-tall space includes materials from all over the world to represent how World War I affected people from many nations. Find Vermont marble pillars, a Swedish crystal chandelier and more.
Celebrate literary legends with Bookmark Indy
Indy might be known for cars and sports, but its literary history runs deep as well. You can pick up some trivia on a self-guided book-themed scavenger hunt through the city. Pull up the interactive map to explore the city through landmarks important to authors like
Kurt Vonnegut, John Green and Mari Evans.
Visit John Dillinger's grave at Crown Hill Cemetery
Indy's 555-acre Crown Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of famed bank robber John Dillinger, President Benjamin Harrison, poet James Whitcomb Riley, Colonel Eli Lilly and thousands of other souls. Enter through the ominous Gothic gates, peek into the chapel, grab a map and take a self-guided tour of the many historic monuments and stones.
Macabre as it may seem, the graveyard offers plenty of tranquil beauty, even for visitors with little interest in gravesites. As the largest green space inside the USS Indianapolis Memorial Highway loop, Crown Hill Cemetery seems to attract as many picnickers as mourners.
Express yourself at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library
Champions of free speech and banned books, unite! The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library (KVML) lets readers get up close and personal with first-edition copies of Vonnegut's books, the author's typewriter and his pages of doodles and sketches. It also invites new expressions by way of a typewriter open for visitors to drum up their own mini manifestos.
The KVML typically charges $12 admission for adults, but savvy locals know that admission is free on the first Monday of each month. Active military members and their families also get in free from Armed Forces Day to Labor Day.
Snap a selfie at an NDY sculpture
Looking for one of the most uniquely-Indy free things to do? The NDY sculptures around the city invite you to memorialize your visit by stepping in as the "I" in Indy.
You can find NDY sculptures at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis International Airport or downtown at the corner of Mass Ave and Alabama St.